The 2022 Junior Representative Finals Series commenced over the weekend when the 5th placed Parramatta Eels met the 4th placed Cronulla Sharks in an elimination final of the Harold Matthews Cup.
A place in the grand final qualifier was the prize for the victorious team, whereas it was season over for the loser.
Unfortunately for the Eels, the trend for this match was set in the opening seconds.
After receiving the ball from the kick off, the Sharks opened up the Eels defence with their first set. A kick on the last tackle was then fumbled in the Eels in-goal area, and Cronulla centre Jayze Tuigamala swooped on the bouncing ball for the first try.
Just a few minutes later a poor kick chase from the Eels allowed Sharks’ fullback Chevy Stewart to slice through the defence and set his team deep in attack. Cronulla had the Eels on the back foot and opted to run the ball on the last. A simple inside ball to lock forward Alex Challenor was all that was needed for him to burrow over from close range, and with the conversion the Sharks were leading by 12 points after less than ten minutes.
The Sharks had turned up ready for this clash and the pressure applied on the Eels defence was relentless. In contrast the Eels were scrambling to stay in the contest and their attack lacked cohesion.
To the Eels credit, they began to find momentum in the final minutes of the first half. With the score remaining at 12 to nil as the teams hit the sheds, there was optimism that Parra had weathered the storm and could launch the fight back after the break.
Early signs seemed to confirm the Eels resolve when Parra worked play to within ten metres of the Sharks line in their first set. They then looked to establish territorial dominance with aggressive defence.
A penalty against the Eels in possession quickly turned the tide, and the Sharks broke through some arm-grabbing defence to march down field. The ball was then shifted to their right in Parra’s red zone and Cronulla’s winger Richard Whalebone was over for his team’s third try.
Parra’s hopes were soon restored when powerhouse centre Michael Gabrael did it all himself with a long range solo try. After receiving an early ball from Lorenzo Talataina, Gabrael split the Sharks front line before taking on and beating the fullback to cross in the corner.
The conversion was missed, but the difference was back to 12 points with 19 minutes left on the clock.
However, the comeback was not to be as Cronulla again asserted their superiority in both attack and defence. Converted tries were added by Jasper Catton and Lachlan Araullo and the Sharks ran out worthy 28-4 winners.
Parra never quite got into any rhythm in this match and Cronulla were far too good on the day. The Sharks will be taking on the Roosters in next weekend’s grand final qualifier, whilst the Eels 2022 campaign has come to an end.
Fortunately, finals action continues for the Eels Tarsha Gale Cup team this coming weekend when they take on the Knights at Kogarah Oval. Their second place finish provided them with a bye in week one of the finals, and a win on Saturday will put them into the decider.
Sharks 28 defeated Eels 4 (Tries: Michael Gabrael)